Just War

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Just War

As widely used, a term referring to any war between states that meets generally accepted international criteria of justification. The concept of just war invokes both political and theological ideology, as it promotes a peaceful resolution and coexistence between states, and the use of force or the invocation of armed conflict only under certain circumstances. It is not the same as, but is often confused with, the term jihad or "holy war," a Muslim religious justification for war.

The principle of a just war emerged early in the development of scholarly writings on International Law. Under this view, a just war was a means of national Self-Help whereby a state attempted to enforce rights actually or allegedly based on international law. State practice from the eighteenth to the early part of the twentieth century generally rejected this distinction, however, as war became a legally permissible national policy to alter the existing rights of states, irrespective of the actual merits of the controversy.

Following World War I, diplomatic negotiations resulted in the General Treaty for the Renunciation of War, more commonly known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed in 1928. The signatory nations renounced war as a means to resolve international disputes promising instead to use peaceful methods.

The aims of the Kellogg-Briand Pact were adopted in the Charter of the United Nations in 1945. Under the charter, the use or threat of force as an instrument of national policy was condemned, but nations were permitted to use force in individual or collective Self-Defense against an aggressor. The General Assembly of the United Nations has further defined aggression as armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity, or political independence of another state, regardless of the reasons for the use of force. The Security Council is empowered to review the use of force, and therefore, to determine whether the relevant circumstances justify branding one nation as the aggressor and in violation of charter obligations. Under the modern view, a just war is one waged consistent with the Kellogg-Briand Pact and the Charter of the United Nations.

What has complicated the concept of just war in contemporary international relations is the emergence of "asymmetrical warfare." The term refers to conflict with parties or entities (such as international terrorist groups) who are neither officially connected with, nor owe allegiance to, any particular public authority or state. While these individuals or groups may be dependent upon clandestine assistance from states willing to help them secretly, they are not publicly responsible to them. Since contemplation of just war requires public authorities to act in their official capacities for the common good, that objective is frustrated by the lack of a discernible, clearly identifiable enemy state against which to act. As a result, the international community has attempted to unite in a common effort to declare war against Terrorism in general as "just."

Further readings

Johnson, James Turner. 2002. "Jihad and Just War." First Things 124.

Novak, Michael. 2003. "Asymmetrical Warfare & Just War." National Review online. Text of public lecture given on February 10 in Rome. Available online at <www.nationalreview.com/novak/novak021003.asp> (accessed August 13, 2003).

References in periodicals archive ?
Third, he wants to expand the class of persons considered under Just War Theory to "all responsible persons," not just the usual combatant/non-combatant distinctions.
(37) He successfully uses the Rwandan civil conflict and both international conflicts in Iraq (1991 and 2003-2011) as case studies in how just war theory either acts or omits to pursue post-conflict Justice.
Fisher presents a strong case for developing a program of military ethics education grounded in virtuous consequentialism and just war theory.
The threat of terrorism, the creation of new military technologies, the rise of private military companies, and the increasing involvement of the military in counter-terrorism and humanitarian operations all pose challenges to traditional ideas about the ethics of war, the relevance of international law governing armed conflict, and Just War theory. One of the problems of this book is that it is entirely the work of theoreticians--nowhere does any senior politician or policy official bring reality into it.
During the past decade there has been a significant resurgence of interest in just war theory, terrorism, and related issues.
The course, called 'Christian Just War Theory' was taught for over 20 years by chaplains at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and used Scripture from both the Old and New Testaments to show that 'it can be moral to go to war'.
The phrase "just peace", however, is also a reminder that for much of its history, Western Christendom has adhered to what has become known as the just war theory. Margot Kassmann urges the decisive replacement of the just war theory by actions designed to promote just peace.
For hundreds of years, intellectuals have been arguing about just war theory, attempting to determine how best to use it in thinking about contemporary war.
By analyzing the historical "points at which fundamental differences of axioms, logic and context make for consistent differences in character, decision, and behavior," Yoder seeks to present a systematic outline of just war theory alongside various strains of pacifism (28).
More than any other pope in modern history, Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) reshaped the Catholic Church's understanding of the just war theory. As first and foremost a social philosopher, Pope John Paul II based his rethinking of "just War" on his understanding of the freedom and dignity of the human person, the centrality of human rights, and the promotion of non-violent methods to bring about political and social change.
His essay takes a hard look at the possibility that any war could be judged "just." "If 'just war theory' were called 'justifiable slaughter theory,' or 'justifiable violence theory,' we might have made a more honest assessment of it" (pp.